Cats, Curiosity and Leadership

Cats, Curiosity, Leadership

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Cats, Curiosity and Leadership


As far back as I can remember, my family has "always" had cats as household pets. Presently my wife and I have two relatively large cats. They are littermates, kept indoors, and are great companions. We like having two so that they can keep each other company during the times when we are away. And this way, there is one for each of us, thus avoiding "catfights."


Like many folks, I have an early morning routine. I won't bore you with the details; I will mention that part of that routine is to grab a cup of coffee, my tablet, and settle into a comfortable

chair in my home office. And the cats also have a practice. Within a very few minutes of my sitting down, Amanda (the female calico cat) joins me. And she too has a routine. She moves cautiously, sniffing along the floor, checking out the table beside my chair where the "cat beds" are, carefully jumping up on the table, sniffing around some more, looking at me to see what's in my hand, and then slowly making her way to my lap. That happens every morning.

Buddy, the black and white male, usually joins us a few minutes later, goes through pretty much the same sniffing routine, and then he jumps into a desk chair that I have moved close to mine so I can pet him from time to time. He loves the attention but would prefer to be in "a separate chair."

Little Has Changed

The workstations in my office are built-in. Because of that, there is very little that can change other than maybe a few papers or small desk items from time-to-time. Yet the cats leave no assumption of safety to chance. EVERY TIME, they thoroughly check out their environment before they settle on lap or chair. They don't ever seem to get complacent and skip the investigation. But what does all this have to do with leadership?

I have learned quite a bit by watching our pets and animals in the wild. They know the importance of stretching, patience, playing, and sleeping. I think there's a leadership lesson in how Amanda and Buddy always check out the environment they are moving into, even though they've been in that environment for many years. The analogy, for me, is that we should never take our market or our customers' needs for granted. We would do well to check our assumptions every time, all the time. We need to take note of what has changed and then make sure that we adjust our actions to match.


On rare occasions, one of the cats will go through the routine, start to jump up on a table or desk, and flip in mid-air so that they land back on the floor. Despite their careful approach, they were unable to see a new, strange object on the table or desk until they were in mid-air. That is what happens to us too. Despite careful attention to markets, customer needs, and our capabilities, we find ourselves surprised by something "just out of view." Maybe disruptive technology. I'm not sure we are as quick as the cats are in adjusting our intentions. Sometimes, I observe folks continuing right on with their plans despite seeing that something has changed or is out of place. That action often turns out to be a mistake.

I'm planning on working harder always to be curious, to check my assumptions, and, if necessary, to be willing to change directions in a split second. What do you think?

[Lightly edited on 9/2020 for our new website.]